SANTA CLARA -- Randy Moss could be needed more than ever Sunday at New England given the uncertain status of starting wide receiver Mario Manningham.
The timing couldn't have worked out any better in terms of plot lines for Sunday's game, given Moss' return to the stadium where he called home for three-plus seasons.
Moss said he still treasures his time with the Patriots.
"I've learned a lot from Bill Belichick," Moss said after practice Wednesday. "I've said time and time again, before I got to New England, I thought I knew a lot about football, but he taught me a lot from A to Z, and I still carry it to this day."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he likes what he's seen from Moss in a 49ers uniform this season.
"Randy looks like Randy," Belichick said in a conference call with Bay Area media. "He's the greatest deep-ball receiver that's ever played. Nobody runs better patterns or has a better feel for the deep part of the field like Randy Moss.
"Because of his ability to do that, it opens up other things. You have to respect his ability to go deep, stretch the field and get behind you. It's hard to take that away and defend everything else."
Moss declined to compare the Patriots and 49ers and the way the organizations are run. He made it quite obvious that he holds Belichick and the Patriots in high regard.
"The compliments are good, and I respect coach Bill Belichick and that organization still to this
Moss, 35, no longer is the focal point of the offense, the way he was for the Vikings from 1998-2004, the Raiders in 2005-06 and the Patriots his first three seasons.
Yet, he still has plenty to offer the 49ers, Belichick said.
"He's an explosive, dynamic player," Belichick said. "He's the smartest receiver I've ever coached. He absolutely knows what he's doing, what the defense is doing."
In 2007, Moss' first with the Patriots, he set the league record for most receiving touchdowns in a season, with 23, in helping the Patriots reach the Super Bowl.
The Patriots released Moss after four games in 2010. Four games later, Moss returned to New England as a member of the Minnesota Vikings and caught one pass for 8 yards.
Moss has caught 21 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns for the 49ers this season.
Even so, coach Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers rave about Moss' contributions as a blocker and locker-room presence.
Second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick said Moss always is there to pass on wisdom.
"Randy has always been great," Kaepernick said. "He's always going to tell me what he's seeing with the defense. We just have a good relationship."
Moss several times in recent games went out of his way during games to encourage Kaepernick.
"Randy's a great guy, he's a great teammate," Kaepernick said. "He's someone that everybody should try to be like, as far as in the locker room and how they are as a teammate."
Patriots receiver Wes Welker praised Moss for his ability to help the other receivers understand defenders' tendencies, what to look for and how to succeed against different defensive schemes.
"He does a great job of reading defenses," Welker said. "He knows when he's about to get the ball and he knows when to kick into high gear and get open and make plays. He really understands defenses, how they're trying to play them and how to attack them."
Moss has played on about one-third of the offensive plays this season. With Manningham out last Sunday, Moss' playing time spiked to 51 percent of the snaps.
It's likely that Moss will get significant playing time against the Patriots, too, even if Manningham is able to play through his shoulder injury.
Moss said a pass from Colin Kaepernick against the Bears resulted in an injury that required medical assistance.
"Man, he dislocated my finger," Moss said of the laser-like throw from Kaepernick that hit off Moss' hand.
Moss said the play called for Kaepernick to find Moss in the first "hole."
"When he found me in the second hole, it was kind of too late to throw it, but he threw it anyway," Moss said. "So, he had to put one of them Randy Johnson fastballs on me. When it hit my finger, I felt my finger pop and I dislocated it."
A team doctor popped the finger back into place. Moss said his finger hurt for about a week.
-- Niners linebacker Aldon Smith met first with the Patriots at the scouting combine and later visited their facility prior to the 2011 NFL draft. "
"It was a good experience," Smith said in a conference call with New England media. "There's a lot of history there, them being Super Bowl champions. The coaching staff does a good job of teaching their players. It's really just a well-built organization, and they're doing things right."
The 49ers selected Smith No. 7 overall, 10 spots ahead of where the Patriots drafted left offensive tackle Nate Solder. Smith and Solder will square off Sunday in a pivotal matchup.
"Smith has a good combination of skills," Belichick said. He's strong, he can power rush, he can run the edge and he's quick. Nate's a good player in his own right, and he's competed against a lot of good ones this year and last year. He'll be ready to go."
-- Harbaugh said running back Brandon Jacobs' three-game suspension was for conduct detrimental to the team.
Jacobs rushed five times for 7 yards in limited action this season. He was suspended Monday on the heels of making critical comments of his brief 49ers tenure on social media sites.
Harbaugh refused to delve into specifics as to why the 49ers suspended Jacobs. It's possible that Jacobs will appeal his suspension at some point.
"You're really not in a position to be talking about that," Harbaugh said. "We'll let that work its way through the system. In terms of why or how we felt, our actions speak for themselves there."
-- Manningham (shoulder), Smith (shoulder), fullback Bruce Miller (shoulder) and linebacker Tavares Gooden (ribs) were limited in practice Wednesday.
-- The 49ers re-signed linebacker Eric Bakhtiari to a two-year contract. He appeared in three games for the 49ers earlier this season and spent all of training camp on the team's roster.
Bakhtiari takes the place of Demarcus Dobbs, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Tuesday, as a core special-teams player.
The 49ers still have one spot open on their 53-man roster. Harbaugh said he isn't sure whether that spot will be filled between now and Sunday's game.